Renewable Power Perspectives Q&A with Robert “A.J.” Patton, CEO of 548 Capital, LLC.

By Constance ThompsonAugust 31, 2021
Image thanks to Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is delighted to share the third installment in our “Accelerating Renewables” blog site series.
Each installation includes market leaders and subjects related to accelerating a fair and just shift to a renewable energy economy. In acknowledgment of National Black Business Month, our August features highlight how three Black-owned Accelerate member business are growing in the sustainable energy sector.
Robert “A.J.” Patton is a finance, sales, and capital markets professional with more than a decade of experience in investment banking, endowment management, and realty analysis. In May 2016, A.J. established 548 Capital, LLC, to integrate his know-how and performance history of producing constant returns with a personal enthusiasm for assisting change communities and their impact on the planet. In 2019, Patton was called a recipient of the Energy News 40 Under 40 award– highlighting his influence on Americas shift to a clean economy.
LEARNT MORE: Up-and-Comer Developer Makes Headway without the Banks ( Chicago Sun-Times, August 27, 2021).
What inspired you to begin your business?
I had 2 turning points that made me jump. In 1999, my mother got a $400 gas costs, and she was just making ten dollars an hour, so we couldnt pay for the gas bill. And so, unfortunately, we had our gas and heat turned off. For roughly a year in my teens, we had to boil water and bring it approximately a porcelain tub to take a bath. Those were uniquely difficult times, and experiences like that just stick to you. I dont care what occurs the rest of your career or what your lifestyle is progressing; those moments are with you permanently. As I talk about that with various groups around the country, it has become clear that my experience is not an abnormality. A lot of people have comparable anecdotes, whichs not a good idea
The second essential minute was most likely 15 years ago, as I was working for a company that was buying a host of things all over the world. People were being available in to request for an investment around eco-friendly energy, and I postured a question to them: “What you are making with these solar companies is amazing, and the cost of solar is coming down, but how does that assistance everyday individuals?” I asked, “Where are they in your equation? Where is their gain access to? They are paying a disproportionate amount of their income on energy.” They looked puzzled that I would even attempt inquire about the daily people. They said, “Well, you know, low- and moderate-income households often live in multi-family buildings, and it is tough to get in contact with those building owners. If you can not get in contact with the building owners, you have to get in touch with private households and the cost of getting those individuals educated and after that signing up for renewable resource is not a beneficial business design.” I asked, “What if I owned the housing advancement and the solar?” And they said, whoever does that is going to alter the market forever. So I stopped my task. I think I kipped down my resignation within six months of that conversation, and I began my company. I called it 548 Capital because that is the system number in the general public housing where I matured. Everything is I do is targeted to families in those circumstances and focused on enhancing their quality of life

Inform us about your company? (objective, partners, regions you run in, main consumers, etc.).
The vision of 548 Capital is to make sustainable innovations accessible for all: all neighborhoods, all households, everyone should have access. Someone, some entity, has to serve as the bridge so that those technologies reach everybody. Thats what my objective is, and thankfully we are growing. We are presently headquartered in Chicago, however we will be revealing some brand-new areas this fall

Share with us a recent success story.
We just recently joined Mayor Lightfoot for an interview to reveal that we will be constructing a $30 million, entirely sustainable and completely cost effective advancement, in partnership with the City of Chicago. We are constructing 50 property systems, a coffee shop, a service center, all on the South Side of Chicago, which will expand solar-powered usage in the city
What impact are you making?
I believe there is always a shock when people discover who is behind our business. Even in our own neighborhoods, people just cant think it.
The other thing that I think is necessary is we have a financial effect that resonates with individuals, and its a pretty powerful message. Were aiming to cut energy expenses for families in half. Thats a huge deal, you understand. That amount of cash impacts the spending plan of daily families
What difficulties do you deal with? Why?
You cant avoid the grind. Let me acknowledge that starting an organization, any organization, was going to be tough. With that said, access to capital is ungodly hard. When I go to banks and say that were building sustainable housing in low- and moderate-income communities, they take a look at me like Ive spoken the wrong language. These neighborhoods are still being red-lined. Some banks do not desire to invest; they do not want to partner; they do not wish to do their share. It is a fight of generational size that Im trying to battle here, and weve made very little, incremental progress. I think the lesson is that union structure is essential. My voice just implies so much, but the more I can bring buddies to the table and enhance that voice, the more we can raise attention to the requirement

I believe there is always a shock when individuals discover who is behind our company. Even in our own communities, individuals just cant believe it. Putting individuals in spaces together so everybody can share notes is always valuable. We are likewise always ready to host individuals if they want to see some of the sustainable technology we are putting in these communities. We host people once a week at our building so they can see the technology that were applying in communities that historically have not had gain access to.

What can companies like ACORE do to move that needle for you, to break down that barrier?
Putting people in spaces together so everyone can share notes is always important. Through the Accelerate program, weve had a chance to speak straight with bankers and tax credit syndicators which is spectacular. If there are national corporations that can support our work that can also be a huge deal. Were currently dealing with a partnership with Lowes, which is donating about $1,000,000 worth of materials to support our projects. Normalizing exposure, standing beside us and stating “these neighborhoods deserve investment”– you cant put a value on that
How can possible partners do company with you?
We are likewise constantly willing to host people if they want to see some of the sustainable technology we are putting in these neighborhoods. We host individuals when a week at our structure so they can see the innovation that were using in communities that traditionally have not had gain access to. Im constantly tough top executives to put their name and face on these efforts since I believe that has genuine worth
How was your Accelerate subscription benefited you?
Its been excellent just to fulfill the other Accelerate member companies. I found out a lot from having discussions with them in real-time, and learning more about people with totally various viewpoints. I love the networking.
I believe we are doing the finest we can do in the COVID environment. Feeling in ones bones that it exists, and that ACORE is so intentional about the program, makes a huge difference.